“Our education system produces people that are either indifferent to caste oppression or oblivious to it” – Conversation with Pradyumna Jairam

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School history textbooks in India have recently undergone revisions in the form of additions, deletions or instructions to schools to not teach particular sections. Some of these sections pertain to historical identity struggles over caste and the insertion of controversial figures from Indian history into mainstream textbooks, while other historical persons and their contributions are minimized or removed.  What do these changes signify in the project of teaching history in India? Are the changes carefully planned to render invisible certain movements and moments in history? Are they done to breed an ignorance of caste struggles to maintain upper-caste dominance? Is history even about historical truths anymore or has it turned even more into a tool for perpetuating certain ideas of nationhood? In this podcast, we speak to Pradyumna Jairam, a PhD scholar at the India Institute, King’s College, University of London about the teaching of history in India and controversial revisions to school textbooks.

Vasundhara Sirnate: How did you get interested in syllabi and curricula?

Pradyumna Jairam : Firstly, thank you Vasundhara and thank you to The Polis Project for doing this podcast on this particular theme. I think it’s a very important theme to discuss particularly in the light of what we are seeing around the world today. History is coming back into the forefront of not just education, but also in terms of campaigning; in terms of its relevance in the public sphere. And I think it is important to contextualize how history is constructed by countries and by politicians.

To answer your question, I loved history in school and I was fascinated by it. But nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is that school plays a role and, within schools, teachers play a very critical role in how you like or dislike subjects. I was fortunate enough to have a history teacher in my last few years, who actually made me like the subject for what it truly was, which was not just learning about the past but actually interrogating and investigating it from a very critical perspective, and, not taking things for granted because she was one of those stalwarts of history.

I studied history for my undergraduate and post-graduate and I think the further I went, the further I realized that the set of “truths” that we were told about history are not necessarily wholesome truths and there are a lot of uncomfortable traits of the past which we perhaps do not learn about because, as you said, history is created to satisfy certain narratives and satisfy certain perspectives and when you satisfy something, you have to include and exclude and you have to chop and change. I think that sort of undertaking really got me into: what is exactly here? And what is exactly not here?

An example, and I think a lot of people may resonate with this, is the history that we study at our school level and maybe if we study something at the undergraduate level – particularly the modern period of Indian history. I am not going to go into the ancient or medieval parts because those are very specific periods of history and I have only done a cursory reading of it so I am not in a position to comment on that. I will comment on the modern part because I specialize in that.

We do a very definite account of India’s freedom struggle. There are certain events which are prioritized, there are certain heroes and there are certain personalities who are amplified in textbooks, in popular narratives and the obvious example is Gandhi. He is someone we study about year in and year out. We study about his contribution in terms of non-violence, in terms of passive resistance, and of course his other movements like the non-cooperation and civil disobedience movements in India. So, these terms are flat and these terms are remembered when we have conversations on history. That is very important and one must study the contributions made by Gandhi and by the Indian National Congress etc. But the point is that when this becomes amplified the scope for looking at contributions made by other communities often gets neglected and the obvious parallel I can draw is with Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar.

The image we have of Ambedkar  is that of a man holding a book, which is the Constitution of India, and of course, rightly so, he is known as the Father of the Constitution. He was a part of the Drafting Committee. Of course, this was very important, but Ambedkar was more than that. Ambedkar was a freedom fighter in his own way – in terms of wanting Dalits to be uplifted from their position of caste subservience to the upper caste Hindus, he did the Mahar Satyagraha, his duels with Gandhi – these are neglected. Because in India we like telling ourselves a happy story, as of course every country does.

There is critical educationist Michael Apple who says that the curriculum is made by “real people with real interests” and these interests are what those in power want. They want a certain narrative to be understood and read by the next generation of learners. We like telling ourselves that people from the outside came, they looted us, they conquered us and then we rose up and then we won our freedom. That’s a very good story to have and of course that makes for a very happy ending. And we see this in school plays, we see this in books, we see this in movies, we see this in so many things. The problem is that ultimately when we accept these, we tend to forget that there are complications and contradictions associated with history. There are complications and contradictions associated with personalities as well. But this fascinates me because then we have to go back and ask: how was this first created? And we then come to textbooks that we studied in our schools and where do the textbooks come from? The textbooks come from curriculum. And these curricula are made by real people. There is critical educationist Michael Apple who says that the curriculum is made by “real people with real interests” and these interests are what those in power want. They want a certain narrative to be understood and read by the next generation of learners.

So, let me stop you there for a second and say in response to your first question… obviously you are extremely passionate about the subject, you clearly understand the topic from what I can gather and so your initial interest in this started because you felt that the history that you learnt in school was rather flat. It wasn’t interrogated enough and that’s what you wanted to do?

Yes, I went to university and I should also mention that I am one of those “anti-nationals” who went to JNU. (But I’m not going to sit here and romanticize JNU.) It of course has so many problems of its own but the one positive things I could take away from my four years there was the fact that I had a set of professors who looked at history beyond the nation. They made history about people and that’s what makes history come alive – when you make history about the struggle of communities, when you make history about previously unknown communities. Even when you look at the type of history which they prescribed to us, that’s what really got me into it. And after I finished that I was thinking about what I wanted to do. Should I continue, pursue a PhD? And this was in 2011-2012. A friend of mine and I were having the same conversation that you and I are just having and he asked me what I was planning to do. I said I would like to teach. And I therefore put in my application to teach in a school. It was supposed to be a 6-9-month engagement but it turned into two and a half years, after which I went to another school.

School kids have a lot to say. It’s just that we don’t want them to say it because we are all short of time or we are thinking that maybe it is not in the syllabus so how relevant is it and that kills their confidence slowly.And I realized that the problem doesn’t go away whether it is a government school or it is a private school. The problem is because we are bound by a curriculum, we are bound by a syllabus and we are bound by textbooks, what students learn is a very limited account of what actually happened in the past and therefore what you need – and I remembered my school teacher here – what you need therefore is someone who can, I wouldn’t want to say challenge the students, but someone who can really spark something  into them. Because there is a myth we associate with young people that they do not want to learn, they are not interested and we like to pass the buck on them by saying: look I made the effort, but they didn’t resonate with me. I think that’s a huge problem a lot of us have with young people. I think that every single young person you interact with is very passionate about something, is very interested in something and wants to say a lot of things. I mean we can look at what Greta Thunberg is doing about climate change. She has a lot to say and she will have a lot to say because she has not been given the opportunity to speak whatever she wants to speak. And now we are seeing the backlash for it. In a similar way school kids have a lot to say. It’s just that we don’t want them to say it because we are all short of time or we are thinking that maybe it is not in the syllabus so how relevant is it and that kills their confidence slowly.

And it also kills their ability to interrogate because if they are being told that asking extra questions or going beyond the syllabus in a way is detrimental to their health in a classroom or to the teacher’s patience, then they are not going to ask any questions as adults either…

We have to look at schooling as a very important way of socialization because after the home, school is where the students spend the maximum amount of time in their day. So the institution has the capability to shape what a child perceives and thinks and then takes into the outside world.Absolutely. We have to look at schooling as a very important way of socialization because after the home, school is where the students spend the maximum amount of time in their day. So the institution has the capability to shape what a child perceives and thinks and then takes into the outside world. And you are absolutely right! We kill their confidence and we kill their motivation, when we look at them and don’t recognize them or we have a preference for certain students who always answer, who have that gift of the gab, who have those good language skills. What we are doing is perpetuating class elitism. We are perpetuating discrimination, which we perhaps don’t see during that time. I perhaps have been guilty of it as well from time to time. Teachers need to introspect about their methods in a classroom, especially when it comes to history because you will get students who come from different regions of India, particularly if you are in Delhi because, as a capital city, it brings people from different parts of the country. You will get people from the East, from the South, from the North East, from the West, who will come with – well I’m not saying they will come with all history of their region – but they will come with a definite idea which perhaps is different from yours. And you need to be accepting of the fact that they may sometimes say something that will not necessarily offend you but will go against what you think. And I think that should be normal. We have to normalize the idea that a student can overrule a teacher based on what they know.

And overrule a textbook if it’s not in sync with their experience of being from a certain part of the country…

Absolutely correct. When a student looks at a textbook and says why isn’t my region covered, the teacher has to honest about it. The teacher cannot say: oh perhaps there is no space in it. The teacher has to say: let’s see who the authors are and let’s see who prescribed these textbooks. And this is where the uncomfortable questions get asked about how textbooks are written. Who writes the textbooks? Why are they written in a certain way?

So before we go into a discussion of the current controversies regarding textbooks, can you tell our listeners a little bit about how the Indian school system is set up? As in how are the curricula determined? What are the hierarchies involved in producing all these textbooks that students read?

Well, it’s a very complicated system. To put it simply it follows a federal structure where we have a centralized educational system, but also the states are free to prescribe their own curricula and their own textbooks. We have state educational research committees and central educational research committees. To put it broadly, post-independence – I am obviously going to talk only about the history aspect of it – we were coming out of the Partition and we were coming out of the linguistic reorganization of the states, we were coming off wars with Pakistan and with China. And at that time, we needed something to unify the country and education was seen as the way to unify the population. This was spearheaded by Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister, S. Radhakrishnan and later on they brought historians like Romila Thapar and others from DU [Delhi University] and JNU [Jawaharlal Nehru University] as well.

We have curricula which are made by the Ministry of Human Resources and Development (MHRD) which was earlier known as the Ministry of Education. After that, at the Central level, we have the National Council of Education Research and Training, popularly known as the NCERT, which is responsible for writing the textbooks for various subjects. So, if you go back to your schools, at the back of the textbooks they would have the publication and it would say NCERT. And of course, at the state level we have the State Council of Education Research and Training. If states want to prescribe their own curricula and their own textbooks, these textbooks are guided by a National Curriculum Framework which lays out what exactly the curriculum has to encompass and what it exactly  has to give to the students in terms of what they ought to be learning. And we have had a few National Curriculum Frameworks over the years. From the 1960s, when this exercise began till about 2002, it was basically a monopoly of the Indian National Congress (INC). So, the Congress, of course, wanted to portray its own set of ideas and its own set of traits and wanted school children to learn about them.

It was in 2003, when we had the first BJP government in power, that they wanted a say in the conversations on history. They wanted a say :in we want to tell our side of history. We want to tell the ‘truth’ about Indian history. If we watch the news today, we are seeing a lot of Vinayak Savarkar coming back. Why is that? It is because the BJP feels that he has not been given his due as far as the telling of history is concerned. Now, of course, I am not going to go into the positives and negatives of that because that’s left to the reader, but it’s an important question we need to ask. Why is it that he is coming back into the national mainstream?

Also what does it mean to “give someone their due” in a history textbook. Does it mean that you show them as a victorious figure or just that you put them in a sentence somewhere?

Where are the women when it comes to remembering Indian history?That is a very good question; in any country in the world you will have certain people who are lionized. And I say lionize because it is predominantly men. Let’s be honest about this as well. I am speaking to you here about the problem associated with the telling of history, but what I am saying is a problem as well. I am saying a very problematic thing because there is a huge disparity in terms of representation of genders. I don’t even want to go into the LGBTQ representation of history because in India we are so far away from that phase that we have to first address the problem of gender. Again, the first thing that comes into our mind about history in India is the heroes who we all remember and love – Nehru, Gandhi. Then we go to medieval times –  Akbar. Unifying figure – we think of Ashoka. Where are the women when it comes to remembering Indian history?  There will be the odd reference. There will be Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi. There will be… again, look at me, I am literally at loss for words…

Sarojini Naidu…

Sarojini Naidu… I am literally at loss for words here because the names we are told are predominantly of men and even when women are mentioned, it is a certain type of women who are to be prioritized. Anyway, that’s perhaps a conversation for another podcast. Getting back to your question, yes, every country needs a hero because it gives an element of security in the sense that: look at our forefathers, look at what they accomplished for us and therefore we need to remember them and we need to emulate them.

When I was doing my background research I found that this happens in different countries. For example, Israel will look at David Ben-Gurion as a figure to remember. We in India, look at Gandhi as the unifying figure. You look at Britain where Winston Churchill is held to such a high pedestal. You look at the United States where its Christopher Columbus and George Washington. We need these figures because it gives a sense of belonging. It gives us a sense of patriotism. And this is again a problem associated with the discipline of History. It’s always seen as the subject which is designed to instill a sense of nationalism, a sense of patriotism, a sense of belonging. And that takes away from the richness of the subject and it becomes…

So, history then isn’t about history. It is not about people. It’s about a victorious past and it is completely deployed for that particular purpose in every country. Is that fair?

So, while remembering the happy times, we also tend to forget the not-so-happy times and this again is the selection and prioritization of events and personalities.Yes, and that victorious past tends to overshadow many of the traumas which were gone through. To get back to our happy story, I am sure that a lot of people when they study history in India in school, it ended in 1947. Now why did it end in 1947? Because it marked the end of a happy story where we rose as a people and we, very rightly, threw away our colonial masters and we established an independent nation state. Absolutely correct. That is of course a very happy, triumphal period for us. But what about the developments that took place right after the Partition? We are woefully ignorant of the history of the Partition. Of course, now we have the Partition Museum. We have literature on Partition which of course is so rich. But how much of that is available at the popular level? When I say popular level, I mean at the school level, at the university level. So, while remembering the happy times, we also tend to forget the not-so-happy times and this again is the selection and prioritization of events and personalities.

So, let’s come to what’s been going on recently. It seems that some parts of a chapter called Popular Struggles and Movements and Challenges to Democracy were edited or removed. Is that right?

Yes.

Or are they still in the textbook and they have just been told that this will not be tested in the external exam?

So there are two things. They have changed the curriculum and they said that this will not be tested in the exam so you don’t need to teach it and our tendency is that we will only do what is required and therefore we will not learn about it and it will just be what it is. It is just a footnote or it is just a paragraph in the textbook which no one will pay attention to.

So, this specific chapter on democracy and diversity – it is about a black power salute at the 1968 Olympic Games which were made by some US athletes and it tries to expose students to the gesture and how the gesture was for protesting against racial discrimination in the US and then very quickly the chapter tries to talk about caste discrimination. So, why do think someone would try to remove something like this from a textbook?

Just because something is abolished legally does not mean it is erased from society and caste is that ugly reminder.Well, it’s caste-based discrimination and that is a reality of India today where caste is something which should make us hang our heads in shame – the fact that it still exists. I know the standard response would be: but untouchability has been abolished by the Constitution. Yes, it has been abolished legally but not in practice. Just because something is abolished legally does not mean it is erased from society and caste is that ugly reminder.

So, let’s talk about caste because it seems that a lot of these deletions or revisions are happening around issues or movements or discussions in the textbooks that are centered on caste. Now, for instance, earlier this year the NCERT also removed sections of the class 9th history textbook. One of the sections that was removed was a very significant section that explained how the Nadar women of Travancore were in struggle. They were in struggle because they were absolutely suppressed. They were not allowed to wear an upper cloth to cover the top of their bodies and this was something that the local royalty in Travancore had also reinforced to accentuate or emphasize the community’s so-called “lower caste” status in society. And between 1813-1859 there was a Channar Revolt where Nadar women were assaulted by Nairs for wearing the upper cloth. So, this is something very significant and I know for a fact that when I went to school in India, I did not read about this. So, at some point between me being in school about twenty years ago and now, something like this was added to the text, right? And I can tell you that as a woman reading this, as a young girl, if I had read this in a school textbook, I might have had a slightly different version of India. Now we are at a phase where someone is again saying: oh this is not important, don’t teach it. So, would it be fair to say that there is something in these chapters which are describing protests, which are describing dissent, which are talking how in the past there was actually an upsurge, a questioning and an interrogation of upper-caste norms of behavior. So, are these textbooks by their deletions and revisions trying to invisibilize caste discrimination?

Absolutely. I mean look at the contradiction here. The fact that this exists in the textbook is an achievement in itself, right? But it’s not being taught. I taught this in fact. I taught this when I was teaching at a CBSE-affiliated school. I taught this chapter and it was a shock to students because they did not know about it. If you look at that textbook, they could have removed any chapter from world history. For example, there are chapters on Nazism. There are chapters on the French Revolution. There are chapters on the Russian Revolution. All very very important, I know. But those chapters lack a particular context because, they just start the chapter with this happened, that happened. So those who are responsible for making these decisions, they could have removed a section on the World History chapter if they were really interested in Indianizing the curriculum. If they were really interested in talking about India, they could have done that but they chose this instead. So, we can’t just say that it’s being done to keep student’s interest at heart and not wanting them to learn so much. It sounds very noble but when you look at what they have deleted, you have to ask the question as to why this particular chapter has been deleted. And then you have to go into this chapter and, as you very rightfully said, there are a lot of things in that chapter which make for very a uncomfortable reading particularly as an Indian.

When you think that during this time we were fighting the British. Yes, we were fighting the British but at the same time there were people who were fighting for their very existence, for their very self-respect. And that indicates to me that this is the reason why they want to delete this chapter. Because you can’t blame anyone else for this, right? We like blaming other people for our problems, which is why the British are such a great enemy to have. We can blame anything on the British, that colonialism did this, colonialism did that, colonialism did xyz. That’s true. Of course, they did. Colonialism was a very bad thing. We know that. But at the same time, we need to interrogate the society we were living in as well – and that’s what these women were doing. They were interrogating the fact that they were living under their own form of colonialism, which was perhaps not perpetuated by the White Man but was perpetuated by the Brahmin or the upper-castes, in this case, the Nairs. So, it’s been deleted and students will now not know that there were movements for caste emancipation. There were movements for freedom within India itself.

As for the chapter in class 10th, the one on the Civil Rights Movement, the textbook tries to make a comparison between the Civil Rights Movement in the USA and the fight for Dalit rights during the colonial period. Students will now not know about it because they will now think that caste-based discrimination doesn’t exist because we have independence now. What people don’t understand is that these perceptions go a long way when we have those conversations about the need for affirmative action or the need for other kind of special recommendations that need to be made for Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes.

Are we creating students that are absolutely un-empathetic to caste discrimination?

Yes, we are and it goes beyond caste discrimination as well. It goes beyond certain references to Nair and Nadar conflict. It goes into who do we study? What do we study? Why do we study it, right? We only get armed with specific events. We only get armed with specific people and therefore we forget other histories. We forget neglected histories. Look at what’s happening in Jammu and Kashmir today. Do we actually study about what happened with accession to India? Do we actually study about the history of that region from a critical perspective? No. So, you know, that’s the thing: it’s a happy story for us because Kashmir accedes to India so that’s the end of that.

So, if we are trying to play simple solutions towards unifying us as a people, we have to go to the past to understand that perhaps these solutions are not what we should be advocating for and we need to be a little more accepting of the fact that there are going to be differences and that’s what gives you a diversity of interpretations. It gives you a diversity of thoughts.Let’s look at the North East. I mean there are multitudes of histories there, right? We can blame anything on the British, that colonialism did this, colonialism did that, colonialism did xyz. That’s true. Of course, they did. Colonialism was a very bad thing. We know that. But at the same time, we need to interrogate the society we were living in as well and that’s what these women were doing. They were interrogating the fact that they were living under their own form of colonialism which was perhaps not perpetuated by the White Man but was perpetuated by the Brahmin or the upper-castes, I mean even how we came about as a country, right?  We didn’t just come about because we got rid of the British? We came about because there were struggles even after that. There were fights over language. Again, we have a perception that Hindi is a unifying language, Hindi should be used as a link language. Is that necessarily the truth? Perhaps not. If we go back to when this was last said in the 1950s and the 1960s, particularly at Madras it was met with a lot of anger. So, if we are trying to play simple solutions towards unifying us as a people, we have to go to the past to understand that perhaps these solutions are not what we should be advocating for and we need to be a little more accepting of the fact that there are going to be differences and that’s what gives you a diversity of interpretations. It gives you a diversity of thoughts.

We keep attaching a past-ness to caste discrimination, that it is something that happened before. It doesn’t happen now, so it is okay to delete these things from the textbook. So, isn’t that also creating students who don’t interrogate their own complicity in the caste system because they think it’s something that happened in the past and has nothing to do with them?

Yes, Vasundhara, just to give you an analogy: it’s like a discussion on slavery and colonialism. I am sure very well-meaning white people say things like: why are you blaming me for something that my ancestors did? Or I am not responsible for this but I am a very well-meaning liberal person; and well, they very well may be. Perhaps they are. I don’t know. But I think those statements themselves come from a certain type of entitlement. When you will hear upper-castes in India saying: why are you blaming me for the sins of ancestors? That happened a thousand years ago or that happened so long ago, why are we still talking about it today? Yeah, that indicates our complicity in it and our unwillingness to be a part of that complicity.

I think that’s the first step towards understanding; I think the first way to understand is to read and produce people who are either indifferent or they are oblivious to it. And I think indifference is more dangerous than oblivion.I think that any upper caste person should hold their hand up and say that there is a system we benefit from, but there is something that we can do to challenge that and that is to say that we need to learn about this. I am interested in: do we actually learn about those things when we are in our formal education? And I think that’s the first step towards understanding; I think the first way to understand is to read and produce people who are either indifferent or they are oblivious to it. And I think indifference is more dangerous than oblivion. Because then you are like: oh well, it could happen. It doesn’t really affect me so why should I bother about it? It is a very dangerous mindset to have.

Memes are a great way of knowing about some things. Again, that’s a shortcut. We are not really interrogating it. We are just looking at that and saying: oh this satisfies how I think so now I am just going to post this. It happens in our conversations, it happens in our WhatsApp forwards, it happens in our televisions, it happens on social media.And we will continue to not interrogate things because we will only learn what governments want us to learn. So, for example do we only know post ‘47 history? Do we actually get to the depths of how bad the Emergency was, for example? Do we really know about how communalism sprang up in Punjab and in Delhi and these places? Do we understand the current day ramifications of the Babri Masjid hearing? Do we go back to the Ayodhya dispute in our history? Perhaps we don’t. And therefore our opinions are not being shaped in an education system in schools and colleges where they can be challenged they can be interrogated and they can be analyzed: they could also perhaps be reformed. We are instead getting our information from places which we ought not to be. For example, we get it on WhatsApp forwards or memes. Yes, memes are very powerful, of course. Memes are a great way of knowing about some things. Again, that’s a shortcut. We are not really interrogating it. We are just looking at that and saying: oh this satisfies how I think so now I am just going to post this. It happens in our conversations, it happens in our WhatsApp forwards, it happens in our televisions, it happens on social media.

There is also the question of how, if the history teachers themselves are failing in school, it also makes people vulnerable to these revisions of history through social media, through tweets, through “WhatsApp university” as it’s called in India now or through memes, right? What is the way forward? What should the NCERT or anyone who is interested in education In India, do? What should they do?

That’s a very high-level change that is needed. It really depends on who we have making these decisions. Do we have educationists who make decisions in terms of education or do we have bureaucrats who make these decisions? Perhaps again that could be a conversation to have with those who are actually involved in decision making.

As far as what we can do as individuals, firstly we should be able to distinguish outright historical lies from truth. And the first and foremost thing is to take WhatsApp forwards with a pinch of salt and take a lot of the loud voices of the 9pm news a little less seriously. The other thing which we need to do is -again I stress this – I think the onus is a lot on our public intellectuals or public historians or whatever we like to call it. I think that they need to also come out of their own echo-chambers which is perhaps on the 60th floor of a very fancy academic building. And they need to come down and they need to present what they know in a – I am not going to say in a simplified manner because that’s an insult to the reader –  in a concise manner where people are able to then say: okay I did not know this. I would like to know this further.

I think there is a gap between the intellectuals and the readers. I think it’s a very dangerous gap because if you have the author or the historian who says that if you haven’t read my work then you are not worthy of my time. I think that represents a problem and I think that people need to write and people need to talk in a manner which is accessible to all.I think there is a gap between the intellectuals and the readers. I think it’s a very dangerous gap because if you have the author or the historian who says that if you haven’t read my work then you are not worthy of my time. I think that represents a problem and I think that people need to write and people need to talk in a manner which is accessible to all.

Secondly as far as textbooks are concerned we need to move beyond history. We need to look at history beyond patriotism. We need to look at history beyond nationalism or identity creation. It’s the only subject which always has a moral agenda to it. I don’t recall math or science or any of these subjects having a moral agenda to them. History always carries that moral agenda. No, it shouldn’t. It should not be any different from the way we study other subjects. I think we need to look at history in a much more pragmatic way, in an interrogative way. For that we need historians to be on board as well. They need to contextualize the present in relation to the past in order to have readers understand what is happening. There are a lot of things which have origins in the past – which we are seeing in the news today. Perhaps our textbooks won’t give us the answers, which is why we need people to engage perhaps in social media.

I recall the historian Audrey Truschke. She has been very active on Twitter and Facebook taking on trolls from the Hindu right who are lambasting her for her writing about Aurungzeb. She presents a very different type of history, which is perhaps not known to us, and she has taken advantage of the availability of social media to amplify her views. Is that good or bad? I don’t know. But at least her voice is getting a lot of traction among people. That’s something that other people could do as well.

The most important thing is that we need to teach from the perspective of empathy. We cannot look at teaching something from a position of superiority. Learning has to be a partnership among the learner and teacher.And the most important thing is that we need to teach from the perspective of empathy. We cannot look at teaching something from a position of superiority. Learning has to be a partnership among the learner and teacher. And those lines of teacher and student perhaps need to remain in certain ways, but in many ways the teacher is also the student and the student is also a teacher. If we can adopt that type of a system, a much more open scheme of learning, I think we can actually get a lot more people to talk about what they think and then we can have an exchange of thoughts and uncomfortable ideas and try and come up with a solution as to what you were asking.

Do you have any comment on how it’s not just the deletion but also additions to textbooks and some of them take the form of the lines of prejudice? For instance, Dina Nath Batra is someone who has wanted certain sections removed. Like he had some problem in higher education with the teaching of an essay by Ramanujan, the mathematician. That is clearly tied with the agenda of a particular political party and a particular kind of politics in India which is right-wing politics. It is the Sangh. It is the BJP. How do you see that going? How successful has that project been?

In Rajasthan, we have seen that in Class 8th, in the history textbook, there is absolutely no mention of Jawaharlal Nehru. He is completely absent from the narrative. We look at who is prioritized and while there is of course references to Gandhi, the man who is the most prominent in Rajasthan’s textbooks is Savarkar. So that indicates a definite preference for ideology as to who you want to remember. This is where we need to understand how the education system operates because while the Center does a lot of things with the NCERT and that’s more publicized, it is in the States where we see a lot of this amplified and realized. Just to give you an example, In Rajasthan, we have seen that in Class 8th, in the history textbook, there is absolutely no mention of Jawaharlal Nehru. He is completely absent from the narrative. We look at who is prioritized and while there is of course references to Gandhi, the man who is the most prominent in Rajasthan’s textbooks is Savarkar. So that indicates a definite preference for ideology as to who you want to remember.

Dina Nath Batra, we used to dismiss him as a fringe but he is very much part of the mainstream now. And has he had any success at the Center? No, he hasn’t because if  he did, then the textbooks that are being prescribed by the NCERT today would be completely different from what is being prescribed. I think the deletions and the omissions are a starting point. That’s always the case. That’s always how it begins and later on we get into a proper curriculum revision. We haven’t had a full history curriculum revision as yet. I don’t know when we will have it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we do have it in some time in the near future. But for the moment whatever he thinks is coming out in his writings. Have they been realized in textbooks? Not yet.

(Pradyumna Jairam is a Ph.D. candidate at the India Institute at Kings College, University of London)

Transcription provided by Preetika Nanda. 

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